Below is an excerpt from “A Lullaby of Flies: A Memoir,” by Kimberly De Liz, a medically retired Air Force Vet. “A Lullaby of Flies: A Memoir” is number three on the bestselling list this week for memoirs, military category. It highlights eating disorders in the military. Kimberly is passionate about sharing her work with as many people as possible- especially fellow military members, and specifically those who have been separated due to anxiety/depression or eating disorders.
A Lullaby of Flies: A Memoir (Sample)
Coos Bay was a lumber town with a community college thrown in for color; it was ugly, and sloping, and had very little in the way of entertainment to offer its citizens. I made my way directly to the recruiter’s offices via my written directions, and I soon found myself standing in the middle of a tiny, unimpressive mall called Pony Village with four doors facing me: the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force recruitment centers.
I had driven the entire way without giving it much thought, but now that I was there, I contemplated; what branch should I join? It was a big decision. I looked at the Navy sign; an eagle in flight grasping an anchor. I didn’t know anything about the Navy except that they went out on boats and submarines, and the thought of being trapped at sea made me feel claustrophobic, so I decided against them, and turned to the Marines.
Their insignia was the most beautiful; bright red and black, it depicted an eagle in flight perched atop the world, with an anchor crossing behind. What did I know about the Marines? Full Metal Jacket, my brain answered. A Few Good Men. Born on the Fourth of July. I took a deep breath, visualizing myself getting hit with socks full of soap. Maybe, I thought, the Marines weren’t for me, either. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea of a challenge, but I didn’t feel up to brutality, either. I turned to the Army door. An eagle in flight on a field of green; E pluribus unum, the ribbon in the eagle’s mouth read. I knew enough Latin from reading novels to know it translated to, ‘out of many, one’. It was a good motto, and it drew me in. I was almost going to step into the office when the face of a short, muscular man in Army fatigues poked out the door.
“Howdy!” he said in a loud southern twang, “Looking for somethin’?”
“I-I am looking to join the military but I don’t know what branch to join.”
“Well you’ve come to the right place!” said the Army man, opening the glass door wide for me, “Come on in, little sweetheart! I can help you see if you don’t think the Army is the right choice for you.”
Instead of coming closer, I backed up a little. The man had a weird sparkle in his eye that reminded me of a used car salesman, and something in his manner made me instinctively distrust him, like he would say anything to get me to join the Army. Looking for a way out, I glanced up at the last sign, the Air Force sign- an eagle in flight on a field of azure blue- and I made my choice.
“I’ll stop by after I go into the Air Force recruiters’,” I said, “I have an appointment with him.”
The Army recruiter pulled a face. “Air Force? Don’t let him get to you. The Army is the way to go, believe me. We take the best care of our people.”
“Well, my dad was in the Air Force,” I said, pulling that out of my memory, “I want to give it a shot first.”
The recruiter smirked, giving in, and gave a little wave of dismissal. “Alright, but when you’re done, come on over. I’m here till four.”
“Thank you,” I said, and walked quickly through the Air Force door.
I entered a small office which contained nothing but a man in uniform behind a desk, who at the moment was writing absorbedly into a large, open ledger. When I opened the door, a tiny bell jingled and he glanced up, analyzing me quickly with cool blue eyes. He glanced from my ratty jeans to the backpack in my hand, and I could see his gears turning, trying to categorize me in his head.
“Be with you in a second,” he said in a soft voice, indicating a chair opposite his desk for me to sit, and he continued to work. I sat there nervously and began to wonder what an Air Force recruit should do with their hands when they sit. I ended up putting them in my coat pockets.
“Okay, sorry about that,” he said, closing his ledger after a few moments, and raising his eyes to mine again. “How can I help you?”
“I, um…I want to join the Air Force. If it’s right for me, that is.” I bit my lip. I didn’t want to seem too eager.
He gave me a friendly smile. “Alright. Well, that’s what I’m here for, after all, five days a week, hour after hour…”
He turned and pulled out some papers from a drawer, and laid them neatly in a pile in front of him. He clicked his pen loudly and said, “The best way to go about this is to ask you a few questions about yourself, and see if you’re right for Air Force. Joining the military is a big decision, a big step to take, and actually a lot of people want in, especially into the Air Force, because it’s the best branch- but not everyone is fit for it. What do you say to me taking notes and filling out some papers while we talk?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
“Alright then. Full name.”
“Kimberly Sarah Presa.”
“Just graduated, right? Straight from high school? What school? Marshfield? Bend?” he asked, checking a box.
“Um, no. I didn’t graduate from high school,” I said.
He paused, looking up at me. “GED?”
He looked mildly disappointed. “We usually don’t accept non high-school grads.”
I deflated. “What? So I can’t join?”
He sucked the side of his cheek and turned to his computer. “Well, just a minute… I think maybe we started letting in something like one or two of you a year, but I don’t know all the details. Let me see.”
I waited in suspense while he tapped through a few screens, grunted, and then turned back to me.
“I think we can accept a GED if they have a good ASVAB score. But it’s got to be good. Have you ever taken a practice ASVAB?”
I shook my head, still upset. “I don’t even know what an ASVAB is.”
“Well, if you do join the Air Force, you will have to get used to our acronyms, and ASVAB is the first you’ll come across- it stands for the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery. It’s a test that potential new recruits for all branches take to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie. You can take a practice test here, in a little room I have in the back, and if all else goes well and you still want to join, you get sent to MEPS- another acronym, Military Entrance Processing Station- in Portland, where you take the real ASVAB. Does that make sense?”
“So you want me to take a test?”
“In a little bit. Let’s finish filling out some information first. Address?”
I stared at him. “I don’t have one.”
He returned my stare. “You’re shitting me.”
“Where do you get mail?”
“I don’t get mail anymore.”
He sighed. “Where do you sleep?”
“In a tent or in my car. Sometimes with a friend. And hotels.”
“No!” I argued. “I just don’t have an apartment or house.”
“Where are your parents?”
I turned my face away. “My mom’s passed, but my dad lives in a nice house in Brookings, which is about two hours away from here.”
“Okay, why don’t you stay with him?”
I played with the frayed edges of my coat, and answered, “Because it would make him unhappy.”
The recruiter was silent for a moment, and began to tap the desk with his pen in evident frustration.
“How did you get here?”
“I drove. I have a car. My dad pays for it. He pays for my phone, too.”
He shook his head in confusion. “Okay, well what’s your phone number?”
I gave it to him, and after he copied it down, he said, “So he pays for your stuff but won’t let you live with him?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, please,” I told him, “It’s hard to explain.”
“I can imagine,” the recruiter said, looking at me. “Well, I need an address to put down, but I don’t have to use it for anything that I know of. How about we use this recruiter’s office for now? Is that okay?”
“That would be very nice, thank you.”
“Done. Moving on. I need your social, and a copy of your GED.”
I frowned. “I don’t have those with me. I have my driver’s license, though.”
He sighed, exasperated. “You are going to be a handful, aren’t you?” Then he sat up, stretched, and cracked his knuckles. “Alright, I’m up for the challenge. Where and when did you get your GED from?”
“In Brookings, Southwestern Oregon Community College- I got it a few months ago, I don’t know the exact date. I do have the diploma somewhere in my dad’s garage. He can send it…”
“How about I just give the college a call. They should be able to send me a copy. Just wait a few minutes.”
And he called them, and in ten minutes he had a faxed copy of my GED in hand, as well as my social security number, which he re-wrote on a sticky note and handed over to me.
“Keep this safe, put it somewhere or better yet- memorize it and shred this thing. Everyone should know their social security number by heart, okay? You will be asked for it a lot in your life-time.”
“Thank you, I will memorize it.”
“Alright, now- where were we? US citizen?”
“Any criminal charges, outstanding traffic tickets, anything like that?”
“Have you ever done drugs?”
“Do you drink alcohol?”
“Not really. I have before and didn’t like it very much.”
I paused, unsure of how to answer. “What do you mean?”
“Have you had surgeries or illnesses that have caused you to be hospitalized?”
I hesitated again, and decided to answer truthfully. “I haven’t had any surgeries, but I have been an inpatient for a mental illness. It was in LA.”
The recruiter leaned back in his chair, and eyed me calmly, judging. He evidently came to a decision and when he began to speak again his voice was measured and succinct. “That was my next question, don’t jump ahead. This one only deals with physical illness. So, that answer was ‘No’.” He swiftly checked a box, then leaned forward, and looked me in the eyes. “Listen, alright? This next question I am going to ask deals with mental illnesses. It boils down to, Have you ever had a mental illness or suffered from severe anxiety and/or depression? And you have a choice. You can say ‘Yes’, or you can say ‘No’. If you say ‘Yes’, I will check that box and will detail whatever mental illness you may have had. But I’m telling you right now, if that happens, there is a good chance you will not be joining the Air Force, even if you have a perfect ASVAB score. If you answer ‘No’, then I will check ‘No’, and we will carry on to the next question. I am laying these options before you openly, and honestly, because I think you are a good kid, and I think if you had a chance, you could make something of yourself. Do you agree?”
My eyes watered. “Yes.”
He sat back. “So. Here we go. Have you ever had a mental illness or suffered from severe anxiety or depression?”
My brain was screaming, Yes, yes, just look at me! I have bruises all over my face, my eyes are bloodshot, I’m a mess! No one after seeing me will be fooled by this stupid questionnaire! But out loud, I replied calmly, “No.”
“Okay then,” he said, and checked the box. I took a deep breath.
After a few more questions, he escorted me into a tiny room, furnished only with a small desk and a computer. He bade me to sit.
“You will take the practice ASVAB here, and I’ll send the results and your paperwork to headquarters in Portland,” he said. “…and from there, we’ll see what happens, okay?”
“Okay,” I replied, watching him leave the room. What was I feeling? Fear? Excitement? Both? I turned to the computer screen, which was alight with a giant idiot-proof ‘click here’ button, and I took a deep breath. I could do this. If I could pass the stupid GED, I could pass the ASVAB.
After the test was over, I went back to the front room, and the recruiter was printing out my results. He sat down at his desk with the printouts, perused them for a moment, and then smiled.
“You did great,” he said, congratulating me. “And I ran your social- you have no criminal record- not that I thought you were lying to me, but I had to check to make it official. Things are looking alright. I think, if you decide to continue, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, that we can get you a place in the Air Force within a few months.”
My heart, which had jumped at his praise of my scores, fell upon hearing his last words. “Months?” I asked. “Why can’t I can join now?”
He seemed to have expected this from me, and replied, “Don’t you want to read over the job options, pamphlets, take some time talking things over with your dad, just to make sure? Plus, even if you were one-hundred percent positive, it would take time to get you a guaranteed job and get you on a flight to Portland MEPS. And then to secure you a place in basic training…”
“I’m sure!” I said, panicking, “I’m very sure that I want to join! Don’t make me go, please! I don’t care what job I have!”
“Look, Kimberly…I don’t know what I can do besides send off your paperwork and test results to MEPS. This stuff takes time. It’s a- well, it’s a giant bureaucracy.”
The tears that I had fought against started to fall, and I wiped them away fiercely. “Well, how long then?”
He thought about it. “Two, three months to get into MEPS? And I’m not sure how long until you’ll be able to actually enter basic- it depends on a lot of things, like when your guaranteed job becomes available.”
“I already told you, I don’t care what job I have. I’ll clean toilets if I have to. Please, is there any way I can get in sooner? Please?” I was begging, and I hated the sound of my voice as I said the words. It was not my proudest moment among many, many not proud moments.
We sat in silence as the seconds passed, neither of us looking each other in the face any longer. I knew I was pitiable and had nothing to offer, but I didn’t want to give up. I feared going back to Brookings, where something could occur that would again change the direction of my life, and cause me to never join the Air Force. Eventually, the recruiter sighed, and said,
“Here, let me make a few phone calls. Don’t get me wrong; I promise nothing,” he said sternly, looking at me, “Come back in half an hour, and we should know by then if I can do anything for you.”
I stood up and thanked him profusely. As I left I turned and saw him pick up his phone and start to dial, a serious and determined look on his face.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
After a half-hour of impatient pacing back and forth outside of his office, I opened his door again, feeling more nervous than I had been when I had first entered, and I found him sitting at his desk with a self-satisfied smile on his face.
“Well, I have some news, and you can tell me how you feel about it. Tonight, instead of going back to your tent, you’ll stay in a nice hotel here in Coos Bay, and tomorrow morning at six am you’ll take a taxi to the airport here in town and fly to Portland MEPS for processing. All paid for by us, of course- that’s what we do. I have all the instructions printed out right here,” he patted a large packet on his desk.
I bowed my head, overcome, feeling as if the wind had been knocked out of me. “Thank you so much! Oh, my God!”
Grinning, he once again indicated the chair across from him. “You’re very welcome. This is why I became a recruiter, after all.”
I was truly speechless, so I just sat and stared at him stupidly, vibrating with excitement.
“Now, when you get there, you’re going to undergo a lot more questioning and probing than what you went through here, okay? Just keep your answers the same, and there should be no problems. They’re also going to do a physical, which everyone has to go through, so just go with the flow. Judging by your test ASVAB score, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the real ASVAB, but here is a pamphlet with some website info that can help you study if you feel inclined. We will eventually need more paperwork from you, but for now, don’t worry about it; just go relax for the night, and prepare yourself to fly tomorrow.”
I pressed my hands over my mouth. “I am so grateful to you,” I muttered through my fingers. “I don’t know how to ever thank you. You don’t know what this means to me.”
His eyes were soft as he said, “You can repay me by doing well in the Air Force. Do that, and every bit of trouble, every favor that I pulled in, was worth it. Sound good?”
I removed my hands, and nodded, smiling through my tears. He handed me a sealed packet which he ordered me to not open, but to hand directly to MEPS when I arrived, and also printed directions which I would need to get there. I accepted it all gratefully, and left the office with a ridiculous wave and an extraordinary feeling of hope.
As I walked by the Army recruiter’s office, I poked my head in the door. The recruiter looked up from his desk in surprise, and smiled when he saw me.
“Hi!” I said, nervous, but still happy. “Sorry; I can’t join the Army because I just joined the Air Force.”
“Aw, dang,” smiled the recruiter good-naturedly, “Well, good luck to you, darlin’.”
“Thank you!” I said, and swept out the door with a grin.
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